I was working at the Exploratorium at 5:04 p.m. on Tuesday October 17, 1989, standing in front of McBean Theater and yaking with friends. The gate to the museum had been down for a few minutes when it hit. There was plenty of the public still inside the museum store.
The ground rolled, the lighting fixtures swang madly, stacked metal fell in the shop and the rafters groaned. With glass doors still flapping, I got outside to the north parking lot in time to see the pavement crack and sink towards the bay.
Unbeknowst to me at the time, liquefaction had caused the Marina Green to rupture into sand spouts, thereby releasing the pressure under the surface of the parking lot and allowing the soil beneath the asphalt to shift. This had caused the water pipes to burst under ground, unbeknownst to the SFFD. At least until the fire started.
After a minute or so, staff went back in to make sure that the public was out and that there wouldn't be any explosions or hazardous gas releases. After securing the building, I decided to retrieve a video camera and check it out, expecting there to be something cool to shoot. Little did I know. Unfortunately the battery was low so I was only able to record about 4 1/2 minutes. Short as it is, it does include the smoke signaling the start of the Marina District fire.